The words “strategy” and “speech” both begin with the letter “s.” Usually, that’s where their similarities end.
Yet, President Obama’s so-called strategy for defeating ISIS or ISIL or the Islamic State (shouldn’t we all agree on a single name for these cutthroats?) seems to consist in little more than the giving of a speech. And that’s done, delivered Wednesday from the Oval Office. The general tenor of the address appeared all that mattered to its presenter: it sounded sufficiently engaged in foreign policy, and it echoed popular sentiment that the brutal beheadings of American journalists is a bad, bad thing.
Yup. Mission accomplished. The oration to the nation might even rescue Obama’s rapidly dropping public approval ratings.
But the substantive result? Nothing other than the proverbial kick of the can down the road, past Obama’s presidential expiration date. (Hallelujah!) The can contains, of course, little more than bad policies.
An uneasy, unstable mix of bad policies.
It certainly wouldn’t be the first time this White House dealt with a very real problem by hyping a public address by Orator Obama. There is nothing like a PR offensive to smooth over the PR problems caused by not doing much of anything at all to solve the underlying issue.
For proof of the “strategy’s” superficiality, just days after the speech there emerged within the Administration a widespread disagreement over whether the United States was at war at all. Secretary of State John Kerry refused to call it one; Obama’s press spokesman said it was sort of part of the permanent War on Terror.
“Our objective is clear,” the President told the nation last Wednesday. “We will degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL through a comprehensive and sustained counter-terrorism strategy.”
Hence the room for confusion about whether this military action is best labeled a “war” or simply a “counter-terrorism strategy.” But I noted, instead, the word “ultimately,” realizing that Mr. Obama was communicating that this “conflict” was certain to be long-lasting — if not ever-lasting.
After degrading al Qaida for more than a decade, the terrorist group has certainly not been “destroyed.” Unless ISIS so upstaging it is tantamount to its destruction.
‘No boots on the ground’
Yet, there is another reason the word “ultimately” might have been chosen by the president. Even as the Islamic State threat has been hyped up to some deep, dark shade of red that Homeland Security has never colored with before, we are at the same time reassured that there will be “no boots on the ground.”
No American boots anyway. Well, more precisely, no American combat boots, just advisor boots. But if the threat to the American homeland is real, and as serious as alleged, why would we refuse to fight with boots on the ground? If the threat is not as advertised, why the prime-time address to the nation?
Oh, right, there are those sinking Obama poll numbers.
Isn’t there also just some small possibility, however remote, that one of our sons or daughters piloting a jet could be shot down? It’s not completely impossible for one of our thousands of advisers close to the action to be captured. Is it?
War is pretty famous for such twists and turns. Would we as a nation simply leave it to the Iraqi army to rescue an American pilot? Or a dozen US advisors?
Or, straight to the point: isn’t the no-boots mantra always a flat-out lie designed to hide the real dangers from the American people?
Obama declared emphatically: “[W]e will not get dragged into another ground war in Iraq.”
Define the word “dragged.”
The New Iraqi Air Force, etc.
President Obama: “First, we will conduct a systematic campaign of airstrikes against these terrorists. Working with the Iraqi government, we will expand our efforts beyond protecting our own people and humanitarian missions, so that we’re hitting ISIL targets as Iraqi forces go on offense.”
In short, the U.S. Air Force will serve as the Iraqi Air Force. And our military experts will help train the Iraqi army. But isn’t this déjà vu all over again? For how many years and how many billions of dollars, if not trillions, did we train the Iraqis, only to see that army implode at the first sounds of gunfire?
The weaponry ISIS now wields is U.S. made, discarded by the Iraqi army as their soldiers ran away.
So, by what logical reasoning can we conclude that the U.S. can now quickly shape up both the corrupt Iraqi government and the pathetic Iraqi military, when with ample time and very costly trying we have failed miserably on both counts?
Has either our training or the general make-up of Iraqi soldiers improved in recent weeks?
Evermore reason to use the word “ultimately” when jawing-boning about the success of this war … or, uh, “counter-terrorism campaign.”
Admittedly, the Administration boasts of the possibility of battalions of infidel soldiers from NATO as well as contingents from Arab nations to bolster the weak Iraqi force. “This counter-terrorism campaign will be waged through a steady, relentless effort to take out ISIL wherever they exist,” explained the president, “using our air power and our support for partner forces on the ground.”
How successful has anything like this been in the past? Listen again to our commander-in-chief: “This strategy of taking out terrorists who threaten us, while supporting partners on the front lines, is one that we have successfully pursued in Yemen and Somalia for years.”
Really? Yemen and Somalia are our success stories?
Does Obama know people have Google?
Building the New Syria
Last year, Mr. Obama wanted to enter Syria’s civil war by bombing Syrian government forces in hopes of spurring the overthrow of Bashar al-Assad. This came after the Assad regime crossed the president’s red-line by attacking civilians with chemical weapons. Red-faced, Obama backed away from his line in the sand under pressure from the American people, and after being offered a life-line by Putin to negotiate with Syria on removing chemical weapons.
Today, Obama seeks to bomb Assad’s most formidable opposition: “I will not hesitate to take action against ISIL in Syria.”
A year ago, Obama announced he was supporting the moderate opposition to Assad’s brutal dictatorship. Since that time, the moderate Free Syrian Army has been decimated, while bitterly complaining about waiting for the promised and desperately needed aid. Now, again, the leader of the free world offers, “Across the border, in Syria, we have ramped up our military assistance to the Syrian opposition.”
In his oration, Obama boasted that “America … helped remove and destroy Syria’s declared chemical weapons so they cannot pose a threat to the Syrian people, or the world, again.” Recent evidence disputes this rosy conclusion as well.
Moreover, Obama has set the U.S. on a path to more Middle East nation-building, announcing in his address to our nation that we are now “pursuing the political solution necessary to solve Syria’s crisis once and for all.”
“Once and for all”? Is that how the world works?
The Friendly Congress
Last, but not least, the Great O informed Americans that, “My administration has also secured bipartisan support for this approach here at home.”
Don’t be fooled into thinking that the seminal achievement of this “bipartisan support” has any connection to actual congressional approval, as in the checks and balances built into our Republic. He has received no official, constitutional authorization from Congress to launch the country into war. Obama claims “the authority to address the threat from ISIL.” He adds patronizingly, “But I believe we are strongest as a nation when the president and Congress work together. So I welcome congressional support for this effort in order to show the world that Americans are united in confronting this danger.”
Obama’s claims of legal and constitutional authority have been scoffed at by law professors and even many of his fellow Democrats in Congress.
Funny, here is one place where Obama could no doubt get Republicans to work with him and to vote to give him the awesome powers he seeks. And yet, instead, the Obama Administration continues its most coherent campaign … for unchecked executive war-making powers.
When a president eschews constitutional limits, beware.
If, like me, you think our previous interventions in Iraq have made matters worse, then the Obama strategy — er, speech — advocates doubling down on a pointless policy.
If, on the other hand, you think we must effectively engage and eradicate ISIS, the Obama approach is a pale imitation of a real military strategy.
If you are somewhere in the middle, what does it say to you when your commander-in-chief discusses the serious matter of sending troops into harm’s way, of making life and death decisions impacting many, many people in that region of the world, and yet his language is vague, his resolve undetectable, and his strategy tried and untrue?
It suggests to me that, apart from managing the impact on his domestic political standing, President Obama is not serious.
Which means we citizens had darn well better be.
September 14, 2014
This column first appeared at Townhall.com.